Since its inception in 1967, the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band has become one of the world’s pre-eminent educational jazz ensembles. Sixteen times Downbeat has awarded the band its DB Award. Over the past 22 years the band has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, Central America, and the Middle East, and appearing with it have been many of the best-known performers in jazz, ranging alphabetically from Louis Bellson and the Brecker brothers to Bobby Watson and Kai Winding.
Featured on this recording is the world premiere of Maria Schneider’s composition “Three Romances,” which was commissioned specifically for the Concert Jazz Band. The other five selections were mastered from archived files spanning the decade of the ‘90s, and, although the rosters may have changed, the music is remarkably consistent in both musical and acoustic quality. This is a band with the fire and drive of the young, whose talents, energy, and passion have obviously been channeled by Whit Sidener with great leadership and skill.
The album opens with a Maria Schneider composition, taken at relaxed tempo but with a satisfying brass climax and a wry finale. “Gregory Is Here” is a luscious, Latin-laced Horace Silver tune. Gary Lindsay’s arrangement of Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation” is taken at a more rapid than usual tempo, and in 3/4 meter. Pianist Clay Perry wrote both “Divisi” and “Squiggle”: the former is in minor key, with Latin rhythms, beautiful brass ensemble, and a sultry tenor solo; the latter, in 6/8 tempo, is the most commercial of the selections, but probably the one with the most appeal for younger listeners, with its muted backbeat and its alto sax and electric guitar solos.
“Three Romances” begins with “Choro Dancado,” influenced by the kind of Brazilian music known as “choro,” an early style that affected much of Brasilian music to follow. The slower, wistful middle movement, “Pas de Deux,” is inspired by Schneider’s favorite ballerina, a breathtaking and unforgettable French danseuse; one can hear echoes of Gil Evans and Sketches of Spain in the orchestration of this movement. The segue to “Danca Ilusoria,” a pensive foxtrot, is smooth; Schneider describes the movement as “suave and very romantic.” The selection builds to a dramatic climax before drawing to a most satisfying conclusion.
This is a remarkable big band album, rich, full and satisfying. Maria Schneider is, in my view, one of the most talented and compelling young composers in jazz. “Three Romances” is a beautiful piece that unmistakably bears her mark, and it is brilliantly played, with sensitivity and feeling. That she has been able to create so distinctive a sound with these young musicians is a tribute to her skills, not only as composer, but as teacher and conductor as well.